2018 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 89/144 (62%)
Line Betting: 31/62 (50%)
2017 Season Results:
Head-to-Head Tipping: 66%
Line Betting: 55%
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NRL Round 20 Tips and Previews
Broncos v Sharks
Offense VOA: Broncos 13.31% (3rd), Sharks 3.55% (6th)
Defense VOA: Broncos -4.76% (7th), Sharks -14.21% (3rd)
The opening match of the round is shaping up as a real barn-burner, with the Broncos coming off a 32-point demolition of the Panthers, while the Sharks were fortunate to squeak home against the Raiders.
The Broncos have been installed as favourites for this outing, as you’d typically expect of a team who just posted 50 points against a fellow premiership contender. That said, we don’t believe that the scoreline in any way reflected that game (or how the Broncos have been traveling). Yes, the Broncos racked up a half-century. However, we’re not interested in how many points they happened to score; we’re more interested in how replicable those points are. And by that measure, the answer is (for the most part) “not very”. If we go back and look at how that match played out, we’ll find that over half the Broncos points came from fluky, against-the-run-of-play occurrences. They scored 2 converted tries from intercepts, 2 converted tries from chip-and-chases, and kicked a penalty goal from a bizarre ruling that James Maloney should have wrapped the kicker while going for a charge-down (why would he complete a tackle he wasn’t trying to make?). That accounts for 26 of their points, none of which you can reasonably expect them to repeat with any sort of reliability. Of course, they would still have won without them; but a scoreline of 24-18 looks very different to the opportunistic demolition that we witnessed on Friday night.
Which is important, as the inflated scoreline has done a lot to mask the obvious problems with the Broncos that they still have yet to fix. Their spine continues to struggle to generate line breaks (though they had 4 against the Panthers, their spine combined for just 1 assist), which leaves them needing either trick plays or brilliant individual efforts to generate points. Fortunately, they’re stacked for talent in that regard, but it’s worth noting that the Sharks rank 3rd in both TBCVOA and LBCVOA – suggesting that defensive lapses aren’t likely to be easy to come by.
Similarly, the Broncos recent struggles to stop opposition run metres reared it’s ugly head again, with the Panthers ultimately outgaining the Broncos, despite possessing just 48% of the ball. As we suggested in last week’s preview, a good chunk of that damage was done down the Broncos’ right edge, with Waqa Blake and Viliame Kikau combining for 2 line breaks, a try, a try assist, and 240 metres at 10 metres/carry. Once again, the Broncos will be trotting out Tevita Pangai Jr on that edge; and once again, they’ll be facing an elite edge forward – this time, it’ll be Wade Graham, who turned in a try, a line break, and 112 metres against the Raiders, despite only playing the first half.
Finally, if there’s a knock on the Sharks recent form, it’d be on their defense; however, we’re expecting those numbers to quickly improve. Though their 24 points and 5 line breaks conceded don’t look great, it’s worth noting that a) the Raiders offense is awesome; and b) nearly all the damage was done in the second half, down the Sharks’ left edge – where Graham should have been defending, but wasn’t. With Graham returning (who’s conceded just 4 line breaks all season from 13 matches), as well as Luke Lewis reclaiming his place on the right edge (who’s conceded 2 from 8), there’s certainly reason enough to expect the Sharks’ edges to be at their water-tight best once again, after a scrappy past couple of weeks.
And if their defense is tight, then they should be OK. Though the Broncos won their last meeting 20-16, we should remember that the Sharks actually ran in 9 line breaks that day, and scored the same number of tries (3). If they can continue to generate those sorts of opportunities (and they have been, averaging 8 breaks per game over the past fortnight), we can reasonably expect them to score more tries; and from there, the Broncos are going to need a whole lot more intercepts if they’re going to keep up.
Our tip: Sharks
Cowboys v Knights
Offense VOA: Cowboys -25.56% (15th), Knights 4.22% (5th)
Defense VOA: Cowboys 4.57% (9th), Knights 18.74% (15th)
You may have glanced at this clash between the Knights and Cowboys and assumed that the formula here would be the same as both the Knights’ recent clashes – a question of whether or not the more offensively enterprising Knights can score enough points to compensate for their mediocre forward pack. In many respects, it is the same here, however the numbers will require some tweaking.
The first obvious difference is the ability of the Cowboys forward pack. Though both the Eels and Titans’ middles are better than Newcastle’s, comparing the North Queensland engine room to that of the Gold Coast is like comparing Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ (a cinematic masterpiece that redefined an entire genre) with Joel Schumacher’s ‘Batman and Robin’ (an abomination of a film, best remembered for the infamous bat-nipples). While the Titans consistently give up huge up metres (they rank 12th in RMCVOA), the Cowboys middle is comparatively stout, ranking 4th in the league. They’ve struggled for depth of late due to injuries, but with both Matt Scott and Jordan McLean named on the extended bench (and expected to play), there’s a good chance that the Cowboys could be trotting out the best group of middles they’ve used in months, and that group would be a long way better than anything the Knights have faced recently.
So, with the Knights having just barely scraped home in their last two matches, the more powerful Cowboys forward pack should get them home, right? Well, yes, it probably would against the Knights of the past fortnight. However, they mightn’t be playing the Knights of the past fortnight – this edition could be bolstered by the addition of Kalyn Ponga, which would change the situation entirely.
While the Knights have been winning by the skin of their teeth, their offense has been nothing like what it was before Ponga got injured. Though the Knights have an impressive LBVOA of 9.26% for the season (4th in the competition), they’ve won their last 2 matches despite their LBVOA plummeting to -26.34%. Those missing line breaks can be easily found – Ponga has had a hand in 29 in just 16 games (1.8 per game). Parachuting him into the lineup makes the Knights immediately better, and likely tilts the equation back into the Knights’ favour.
Through Newcastle’s past two matches, we’ve taken the position that we’d rather have the team with the better offense than the team with more field position, and we’re sticking to our guns here. That said, we acknowledge that the Cowboys are far more likely to pin the Knights down their own end than either of their past two opponents, so the Knights will need to be better here than they’ve been in their past two outings. Assuming Ponga plays, we believe they will be; though if he doesn’t, we’d probably swing back behind the Cowboys (at time of writing, he’s still in some doubt). Keep an eye on the team lists.
Our tip: Knights
Bulldogs v Tigers
Offense VOA: Bulldogs -14.38% (13th), Tigers -12.34% (12th)
Defense VOA: Bulldogs 6.85% (12th), Tigers 8.56% (13th)
At this point in time, we know what the Bulldogs are – a bad football team who always give a good effort. The good effort is at least something that their fans can take pride in (after all, it’s more than could be said of a number of teams), but with a squad this poor, it’s not typically enough to win football games.
What we’re only just finding out though, is what the Tigers are. For the better part of four months, we had a pretty good idea – a hopelessly clumsy attacking unit, who’d managed to win a surprising string of early-season matches, largely through good fortune. However, that changed three weeks ago, and suddenly the Tigers are a totally different team, and one that ought to be taken very seriously.
At this point, we all know what changed – the mid-season additions of fullback Moses Mbye and hooker Robbie Farah. However, the significance of those additions can’t be overstated. Since they came on board, their tries are up (they’ve scored 3+ tries in back-to-back games for the first time since Rounds 7-8), their tackle breaks are up (from a TBVOA of -0.84% to 17.71%), and even their run metres are up (if you ever wanted to see the value added from quality dummy-half service, it’s right here). Most importantly though, their line breaks are through the roof, with their LBVOA soaring from -11.71% (12th in the NRL) to 33.48% over their past 3 games (good enough for 2nd). Suddenly, this isn’t a team who needs other sides to wet the bed – they’ve got points to burn, and they seem to be just getting started.
Unfortunately, their edge defense still sucks, and they’re still plagued by missed tackles. However, that doesn’t make them a bad team – it essentially makes them the Knights, and if nothing else, the Knights (and now, the Tigers) are a lot of fun. Against a dreadful attacking unit like the Bulldogs, this should be an opportunity for the Tigers to run up a score and really start making some noise. And not a moment too soon.
Our tip: Tigers
Sea Eagles v Panthers
Offense VOA: Sea Eagles 0.67% (9th), Panthers 2.07% (8th)
Defense VOA: Sea Eagles 13.69% (14th), Panthers -5.56% (6th)
Let’s play a game.
Compare the following teams:
- TEAM A: Last weekend, Team A made 6 line breaks while conceding just 4, missed 28 tackles (the league average is 26) and outgained their opponent by 48 metres (while limiting them to just 1254).
- TEAM B: Team B, meanwhile, made just 4 line breaks and got gashed for 13, missed 39 tackles, and got outgained by 376m (while conceding almost 1700).
Looking at those numbers, you could reasonably assume that Team A did pretty well, while wondering if Team B had ever played football before in their lives. As you’ve likely guessed, Team A here is Penrith, while Team B is Manly, and both teams got pumped by 32 points last weekend. The point we’re making here, is that not all hidings are created equal.
If you simply looked at the box score, you’d see that the Panthers got smoked 50-18, and assume that they turned in numbers that look a lot like Team B – most teams who concede a 50-burger do. But they didn’t (indeed, last week’s freak game was the first time all year that a team has conceded 8 tries or more in a game while conceding less than 7 line breaks). The Panthers were soundly beaten (the game was over after 20 minutes), but to all the social media haters coming out of the woodwork with “fade the Panthers” and “OMG THE PANTHERZ ARE GONE LOLOLOL”, we think you’re badly mistaken (indeed, there’s an argument that Penrith’s performances of late are better than they were during their early season winning stretch, despite having won just 1 of their last 5).
On the other hand, those of you who assumed that Manly were terrible were right on the money. The Sea Eagles’ defense in general was shambolic, with their right edge “defense” particularly comical – the Roosters sent 9 line breaks down that channel, with Latrell Mitchell making 3 on his own. With a shortage of options, Moses Suli and Brad Parker have once again been listed together (though with Dylan Walker returning, we’d be inclined to slot him into the centres with Trent Hodkinson at 6), and now have the unstoppable Waqa Blake/Viliame Kikau combination heading their way (Blake was notably absent when the Panthers stunk it up against Manly in Round 16).
As bad as Manly were, they’ll surely be better (they couldn’t get any worse), however their only real hope is that the Panthers are terrible. Penrith played their worst game of the year when the teams last met, and they were still winning for most of the match. We’d expect surprise fullback Tyrone Peachey to get plenty of attention from Daly Cherry-Evans’ kicking game, and the Sea Eagles will be hoping that he provides a few opportunities through inexperience at the back. But if that doesn’t work (and potentially, even if it does), it could be another long afternoon for Manly.
Our tip: Panthers
Rabbitohs v Eels
Offense VOA: Rabbitohs 43.64% (1st), Eels -26.52% (16th)
Defense VOA: Rabbitohs -13.40% (4th), Eels 6.35% (11th)
Watching the Rabbitohs last week was an exercise in frustration, and gave us flashbacks to the South Sydney sides of the last few years.
At this point, everyone knows that the Rabbitohs’ pack is unreal, and generally speaking, the combination of their dominant forwards and speedy hooker Damien Cook allows them to beat teams through the middle third of the field. However, though the Tigers have some of the worst edge defenders in the league, they’re actually pretty good in the middle of the field (while every member of their backline has conceded at least 7 line breaks this season, Matt Eisenhuth is their only forward to have allowed more than that; and in fairness, he’s made the most tackles in the entire team). We can understand the Rabbitohs trying to crack them through the middle (after all, it works most weeks), but having failed to strike a blow in the entire first half, it was baffling to see them continue to persist with the same formula in the second (yes, they had a bit more success in the second half, but that was more the result of their 60% possession share than any sort of attacking innovation). Sam Burgess, John Sutton and Angus Crichton all finished with over 15 runs, while Robert Jennings led their outside backs with just 13. Compare that to what the Tigers were doing – they knew they couldn’t hang with the Rabbitohs in the middle of the field, so they didn’t try. By the end of the game, their entire three-quarter line had more touches than any member of their forward pack (the Tigers centres both had 17 touches, while no Tigers forward had more than 11). In short, the Tigers did to the Rabbitohs exactly what they should have been doing to Wests – attacking them where they’re weakest. This was a victory of coaching for Ivan Cleary, and we hope that the next time Plan A doesn’t work, the Rabbitohs more readily move on to Plan B or C (after all, it’s not like the Rabbitohs’ backline isn’t pretty darn good, as well).
Now that that’s out of the way, we can turn our attention to this week’s game, which should hopefully be a bit softer for the Bunnies. Though the Eels’ middles are generally better than they get credit for, their run defense has been average of late, getting gashed for over 1350m in their past 7 games in a row. If you can’t slow down the Rabbitohs, bad things typically follow, as they learnt the last time they met (when Souths outgained Parramatta by over 200m, and ran in 8 tries).
If the Eels are to win, either their forwards will need to aim up, or they’re going to need to score a lot of points, and we’d argue that the former is far more likely than the latter. Though the Eels have been competing well of late, their offense is still terrible, having made more than 3 line breaks in a match just once in their past 8 matches (the Rabbitohs, meanwhile, haven’t made less than 3 since Round 2).
We actually think that the Eels have the cattle to make life difficult for Souths, if they follow a blueprint similar to what the Tigers did a week ago. Of course, it’s easier said than done, and while many have tried to slow down the Rabbitohs, the Tigers were the first team in months to pull it off. The smart money’s on Souths, but we’re at least curious to see how the Rabbitohs respond to last week’s humbling.
Our tip: Rabbitohs
Storm v Raiders
Offense VOA: Storm 0.13% (10th), Raiders 28.85% (2nd)
Defense VOA: Storm -32.36% (2nd), Raiders -3.61% (8th)
After 18 months of watching the Raiders somehow continually get narrowly beaten while playing otherwise great footy, we’ve finally figured out the cause: Canberra fans are clearly paying a penance for their sins in past lives, and are doomed to an eternity of supporting a team of Top 4 quality, who’ll only ever finish 9th. That’s the only explanation we can muster after watching the Raiders get stiffed of another win last week, as “Flag Up, Flag Down Guy” joined a long list of characters to be blamed for unfortunate Canberra defeats.
That said, they often don’t help themselves. We warned you last week of a potential mismatch between Michael Oldfield and Jesse Ramien, and that howler of a selection saw the Sharks put 4 line breaks down that edge, including an ugly one-on-one miss for Oldfield on Valentine Holmes that directly cost them a try. Oldfield has since been switched onto the wing for this week (where he spent time in the second half), but the baffling part is that he was ever put in that position in the first place.
Now, they face a trip to Melbourne to face a Storm team in the middle of a 7-game winning streak. To be quite honest, as imposing at this match looks, the Raiders should still be competitive. The Storm’s offense hasn’t looked sharp for weeks (they’ve posted just 12 and 14 points in their past two matches since obliterating a depleted Dragons side; and put 9 on the Roosters the week prior), while the Raiders haven’t scored less than 16 all year. If Canberra’s defense can just dial back the errors a bit (they’ve made double-digit errors in 5 of their last 7, and as a result, won the possession battle just once), there’s every reason to think they could win.
But they won’t. They may well be in front at some stage, perhaps with just a few minutes left. But then something will happen – a lightning strike, a try off a forward pass, Sia Soliola decapitating Billy Slater – and the match will suddenly turn against them. They’ll have played very well, but ultimately, they’re destined to lose.
Our tip: Storm
Titans v Warriors
Offense VOA: Titans -25.55% (14th), Warriors -0.38% (11th)
Defense VOA: Titans 54.50% (16th), Warriors 5.31% (10th)
Look. We don’t think the Titans are going to win. However, we actually do think that they can compete well here, and are at least some chance of springing an upset.
Our optimism stems from their recent improvement in offensive production. Outside of their inept effort against the Broncos three weeks ago, the Titans are in the middle of an offensive purple patch, having made 5 or more line breaks in 4 of their past 5, after hitting that figure just twice in the opening 14 rounds. Of course, they’re still losing; but that’s more to do with their trash defense and sub-standard forward pack than an inability to generate points. Michael Gordon has been superb over the past month (you could say he looks like a young Michael Gordon), and has finally provided the Titans with an attacking alternative to Ash Taylor.
Last week, the Titans were well in control for much of the game, before their middles gassed and the Knights came steaming over the top of them (after going toe-to-toe in the first half, the Titans were outgained by over 200m and missed a whopping 25 tackles in the second stanza, primarily straight through the middle of the ruck). This is a problem largely of their own making – if you refuse to utilise your bench forwards (the Titans’ 3 bench forwards played just 57 minutes combined, while only Jai Arrow failed to play 56 minutes or more among the starters), you get what you deserve when you run out of puff late in games (see: Sea Eagles, Manly). We mentioned it last week, but Moeaki Fotuaika continues to impress off the bench; limiting him to just 24 minutes under the circumstances is inexcusable.
But, we’re not that thrilled with the Warriors, either. Last week saw them rack up their 3rd loss in 4 weeks, and was the 3rd time this year they’ve been held to 1 try or less (and the 2nd time in 3 weeks). They do have their moments (like in their thrashing of the Broncos a fortnight ago), but their inconsistency is shocking for a team still within range of the Top 4.
We mentioned last week (and it warrants repeating) that the Warriors have so far been completely shut down by every elite defense they’ve faced since Week One, with last week’s failure just another in a long line of disappointments. We’re mentioning it here though, for the opposite reason: though they struggle against top defenses, they’ve typically crushed bad ones (like the Titans mob they’ll be facing here). The Warriors have so far played 6 matches against teams whose defense ranks in the Bottom 8, and in those matches, they’ve scored an average of 24.8 points per game, and never scored less than 20. They may well be the definition of flat-track bullies, but that’s fine, against a defense like the Gold Coast.
And so, we’re taking the Warriors, but not without giving the Titans a sporting chance. The Titans’ own offensive improvement should see them snatch about 3 tries off the Warriors’ middling defense, and from there, we’d definitely have a ball game. We’d still back New Zealand, but it could be a lot of fun.
Our tip: Warriors
Roosters v Dragons
Offense VOA: Roosters 3.27% (7th), Dragons 5.02% (4th)
Defense VOA: Roosters -36.44% (1st), Dragons -8.22% (5th)
There was a popular theme in the media this week that by beating the Cowboys last weekend, the Dragons had arrested their form slide and re-established their premiership credentials. We object to this idea.
To be clear, ‘winning’ and ‘good form’ are not the same thing (in particular, winning against the Cowboys – if beating North Queensland is all it takes to prove your premiership credentials, then every team that’s played them is a threat besides the Gold Coast and Manly). If winning that match put an end to their dip in form, it implies that their dip only started when they began ‘losing’ – two weeks ago against the Storm. This understates their downward trend, and oddly, would suggest that they were in ‘bad form’ in that loss (we’d argue that given they were without their entire starting forward pack for that game, it’s probably the only game in the last month that shouldn’t count against them when assessing their form). In truth, the Dragons having been trending downwards ever since they got spanked by the Panthers in Round 12. Their patchy form may have been overlooked because they were still winning, but it’s fairly apparent when you look at their numbers.
From Rounds 1-11, the Dragons were rolling along comfortably, scoring 4.1 tries per game. Since that time, that number’s dropped to 3.4, largely due to a drop in line breaks* (their LBVOA has collapsed from -1.02% to -21.40%) and field position (after winning the yardage battle in every game from Rounds 1-11, they’ve won it just twice in their past 7).
Now, it’s important to note that the drop in net yardage is not due to a drop in total metres gained. Their RMVOA has remained virtually identical between the two periods, and that’s despite an explainable drop in the aforementioned Storm game (without it, their RMVOA would actually be up). Rather, it’s an issue of defense.
We’re going to go ahead and do the Dragons a favour and ignore their numbers from the Storm game here (because those numbers were so outrageously bad, they’d undeservedly skew their averages), and instead look at the other six games (4 of which they won). It’s here that their dip in form becomes most apparent. Though their tries conceded is identical (2.5), this is the result of playing a lower standard of opponent, more than playing good defense. Across their other metrics, they dip considerably: LBCVOA from -20.17% to -3.99%; TBCVOA from -14.57% to 6.96% ; and (we’d argue most importantly) their RMCVOA from -0.87% to 5.93% (a drop from 5th in the league to 2nd last). To put that in plain English, they’re conceding more line breaks, missing more tackles and giving up more metres; and though their numbers last week were far closer to their early season numbers than those of the past two months, simply beating the Cowboys shouldn’t be enough to earn a stamp of “contenders”.
That said, beating the Roosters here would probably do it (though we don’t think they will, for all the reasons above). While the Dragons’ defense has been slipping, the Roosters’ remains the gold standard, and they’ve recently started scoring tries, too. We’re looking forward to seeing how Sydney fare against a higher standard of team (though they’ve won 6 of their last 7, only 1 was against a current Top 8 team), but while we’re expecting the Dragons to continue improving, we think the Roosters may already be there. We’re taking Sydney, in the game of the round.
Our tip: Roosters
*NOTE: If you express the Dragons’ drop in LBVOA as an adjusted line break value rather than a percentage, it’s dropped from 4.2 adjusted line breaks per game to 3.3. If that looks familiar, it’s because it’s almost identical to their drop in tries, (from 4.1 to 3.4). Funny that.